Earlier this month, I was working on a trade with a fellow former Beckett employee in which he handed me an autographed Bert Blyleven “buy-back” card from 2004. The card was numbered to 57 and yet only had a book value of $15. When I pointed out that would mean I’d probably put $10 on the card at my next show and hope to sell it for $8 his comment was, “hey at that price, I’ll buy it back”. Well perhaps I could be $12 and $10 but his point was Mr. Blyleven now charges $20 for his autograph through the mail and so latching onto a certified autograph is a bargain compared to that process.
That’s one of the unspoken truths of today’s certified autograph collecting. Many of today’s cards wind up costing less than you would have to spend to get one directly from the player.
Who would have ever thought that for many collectors, the best bargain is actually the most popular of today’s cards, which is the on-card autograph. That specific 2004 Blyleven is a pretty good example. The cost of shipping your own card, hoping you get it back and then getting the autograph certified by either PSA/DNA or JSA is a longer, more cumbersome procedure than buying one on the secondary market, trading for one or pulling one out of a pack (if you’re lucky) Who knew?
One thing I’ve learned in being the local contact and liaison for an autograph show and dealing directly with the players in many cases is, in reality, what a bargain a fairly priced player at a show can be. With the exception of our current player, so far we’ve been able to keep the costs to the public at less than $10 per autograph and even had some which were free with admission. Our goal is to avoid having to charge so much for a player that all they do is sit for their couple of hours with nothing to do because no one is willing to pay the price we have to charge. I suppose we could just have the players sign for future mail order purposes but why not enable price points that allow players to meet their fans? That’s supposed to be the fun part of getting an autograph.
Even 20 or so years ago, this was an issue for those who dealt with athletes. I still remember some meeting with a card company and I think we were discussing why Larry Walker was so difficult for them to add to their autograph checklist. Well, at the time, I believe Walker’s per autograph asking price was about $50. If you’re a card company, paying him that much might blow your budget out of sight and you won’t be able to fill your product with enough popular players to keep customers happy. A few years ago, he did sign some stickers you’ll find on Panini cards a few years ago but I don’t know what his price is now.
Of course, there are those cases where, in retrospect, whatever you paid the players was worth the money. Both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were in the 1996 Leaf Signature Series set and I pretty much guarantee you their signatures are now worth far more than they cost the card companies 20 years ago.
And today, since it is so much more difficult to meet the average major league player than it was even 30 years ago when most of them were still part of our communities, that even when you pull a Brock Holt or a Kolten Wong card out of a box, those cards may truly be underpriced compared to the difficulty in getting them on your own. So, we need to enjoy and appreciate those autographs from our packs whether they are Mike Trout or Mike Carp.